Keir Starmer has declared that Jeremy Corbyn “deserved” to lose the last general election because the public didn’t trust Labour with their security, jobs or their money.
In his clearest break yet with his predecessor, the Labour leader used his first conference speech to vent his “anger” at the impotence of the party being out of office for the last 10 years.
Repeatedly stressing his background as the Director of Public Prosecutions, Starmer also used the speech to contrast himself with Boris Johnson and to attack the PM as “just not serious, just not up to the job”.
When Johnson was writing newspapers columns about “bendy bananas” and getting sacked for making up quotations, “I was defending victims and prosecuting terrorists”, he said.
Speaking in Doncaster, where the Tories took a seat from Labour in the 2019 election for the first time in its 100-year history, Starmer stressed both his patriotism and his “family values” as he admitted that it would take time to win back the trust of voters lost under Corbyn.
“We’re not going to win back those we’ve lost with a single speech or a clever policy offer. Trust takes time,” he said.
But in contrast to his leadership campaign, he heaped praise on Tony Blair as well as Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson for being the only three Labour leaders who won power in the last 75 years because they had a clear vision to “modernise Britain”.
Starmer’s most striking words were his all-out assault on Corbyn’s failures that led to the party’s shattering defeat in December.
“Let’s be blunt. Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves. When you lose an election in a democracy, you deserve to,” he said.
“You don’t look at the electorate and ask them: ‘what were you thinking?’ You look at yourself and ask: ‘what were we doing?’.”
The line was a swipe not just at Corbyn but also at Ed Miliband, who suffered his own big defeat in 2015.
Yet Starmer made plain that it was his immediate predecessor who was most in his sights, not least over his handling of the Russian poisonings and his poor reputation on the economy.
“I can make this promise: Never again will Labour go into an election not being trusted on national security, with your job, with your community and with your money. That’s what being under new leadership means,” he said.
He also sought to turn his background as a lawyer, something Johnson has used as a criticism, to his advantage.
Although Starmer prefers not to use his ‘Sir Keir’ title, he said that it was “one of the proudest moments” of his parents’ lives to be with him at Buckingham Palace when he was awarded a knighthood for services to criminal justice.
Introduced by Jewish former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who heavily criticised Corbyn’s record on anti-Semitism, Starmer said that the party had in recent years “taken for granted” its voters and the things they cared about.
“As well as anger, I feel frustration. Frustration that every Labour Party spokesperson is a shadow. Shadow Education. Shadow Health. Shadow Chancellor. Shadow Foreign. Until we come out of the shadows, this party can’t change anything.”
Starmer, who has been under fire from some of Labour’s black and minority ethnic activists for his handling of anti-Black racism in the party, also stressed his long record working with Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.
“Racial inequality is one of the causes that brought me into politics. And the eradication of structural racism will be a defining cause for the next Labour government,” he said.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.